Sobralia liliastrum

Lindley 1833

Native to Brazil, Amazonas, and French Guiana

Edited 6 April 2009
© Nina Rach

This species was originally described by Lindley in The Genera and Species of Orchidaceous Plants 177 (1833), and noted as occuring in the Guianas and Brazil. The type specimen was collected by Robert (R.H.) and Richrd (M.R.) Schomburgk in the Guyanas. Specimen #1059 (Herbaria: BM, P) from Robert Schomburgk's first collection series in 1839, from Roraima (now Venezuela).

There are three other related species publications to take note of:
(1) Sobralia liliastrum forma maior Hoehne, published in Relatorio, Commissao das Linhas Telegraficas Estrategicas de Matto Groosoao Amazonas. Anexo (Relat. Commiss. Linhas. Telegr. Estrateg. Matto Grosso Amazonas) 5, Bot. pt. 4: 23, pl. 74. 1912. [This is now Sobralia augusta]

(2) Sobralia liliastrum var. alba Lindl., published in Folia Orchidaceae Sobralia 4. 1854.

(3) Sobralia liliastrum var. rosea Lindl., published in Folia Orchidaceae Sobralia 4. 1854. According to Romero (1998), "Robert H. Schomburgk, in his illustration published in Sertum Orchidaceum (Lindley 1839), also shows flowers of this species with pink sepals and petals; the apex of the labellum is crimson."

Flowers are terminal, have soft white petals and sepals, and a white lip with a light yellow tip and orange-yellow parallel veins down the center. Column and pollinia are white and anther cap is pale yellow. The column is characterized by two sub-parallel, white/cream horns. Romero (1998) notes "...the labellum lamina has pronounced yellow keels covered with pseudopollen (starch granules that look just like the pollen grains of toher plants). This pseudopollen, also yellow, is actively collected by the large bees that visit the flowers in the early hours of the day."

Delfina de Araujo indicates that Sob. liliastrum has been confirmed to occur in the Brazilian states of Alagoas, Amazonas, Bahia, Espírito Santo, Amapá, Pará, Pernambuco and Roraima; and it is recorded as flowering there in May, June, and July.

In October 2001, we trekked to Venezuela's Gran Sabana in Bolivar State and observed thousands of medium-tall, blooming plants that we thought at first were Sobralia liliastrum. Bees were visiting the flowers throughout the day. The flowers were very close to Dunsterville's line-drawings of the species. However, Dr. Leslie Garay suggests that this species, so prevalent in the Gran Sabana, is more properly tagged Sobralia elizabethae. He writes: "The true (type) is from Bahia, Brasil, and both of ...[the] phone cards give excellent pictures. [see below] The flowers on the type specimen I have seen are with 4.5-5 cm (2 inches) long sepals."

Note that Romero has recently defined a smaller-growing white-flowered sobralia that was "also traditionally identified as Sobralia liliastrum" as a new species, Sobralia granitica.

There is yet another reference to Sobralia liliastrum occurring in Bolivia, based on work by Hermes Justiniano Suárez [Orquideas Nativas de Bolivia; in Spanish, with a photo that looks different yet again]. The author describes is as a terrestrial species growing on steep, humid(?) slopes. Widely distributed in the Yungas Mts (Andes), from Park Nacional Amboró, to the north of La Paz. Flowers last a single day and reach up to 10 cm diameter.

See the webpage on White Sobralias.

Printed References:

G. Cremers, M. Hoff, D. Barthelemy, E.A. Christenson, Ly. & L. Leneveu, & Ch. & Cl. Pawilowski (1992) Inventaire taxonomique des plantes de la Guyane francaise II - les Orchidacees. Mus. Nat. Hist. Nat., Coll. Patr. Nat. (Ser. Patr. Genetique) 7: 1-144. Sobralia liliastrum is listed as species no. 273 - "Rare dans le nord-est." Synonyms: Cattleya liliastrum (Lindley) Beer; Epidendrum liliastrum Salzmann ex Lindley; Sobralia elisabethae Schomburgk; Sobralia paradisiaca Rchb.f.

G.C.K. Dunsterville and Leslie A. Garay (1961). Venezuelan Orchids Illustrated, Volume 2, pp. 322-323.

G.C.K. Dunsterville and Leslie A. Garay (1979). Orchids of Venezuela: An Illustrated Field Guide, p.934 [excellent line drawing].

Ernesto Foldats (1969) "Orchidaceae," in: T. Lasser, Flora de Venezuela 15(1): 169-201. Caracas: Edicion Especial del Instituto Botanico. [Sob. candida, ciliata, dichotoma, fimbriata, fragrans, infundibuligera, liliastrum, macrophylla, paradisiaca, rosea, sessilis, speciosa, stenophylla, suaveolens, violacea, yauaperyensis]

Claudio Nicoletti de Fraga and Ariane Luna Peixoto (2004) "Florística e ecologia das Orchidaceae das restingas do estado do Espírito Santo," in: Rodriguésia 55 (84): 5-20. [Sobralia sp. nov., liliastrum, sessilis; Brazil]

R.M. Harley and S.J. Mayo (1980) Towards a Checklist of the Flora of Bahia.

Eva Ledezma, Giovanny Ramirez, Nayive Pino-Benitez (March 2006) "Forest Orchids of the Choco Region / Orquideas silvestres del Choco," in: Lyonia 10(1): 17-31. [Elleanthus capitatus, steyermarkii; Palmorchis trilobulata; Sobralia decora, fragrans, klotzscheana, liliastrum, macrophylla, madisonii, pulcherrima, valida; Fig. 4 shows Sobralia pollinia].

John Lindley (1833) in: The Genera and Species of Orchidaceous Plants 177.

John Lindley (1939) "Sobralia liliastrum" in: Sertum Orchidaceum t.29. James Ridway, London.

C.F.P. Martius (1840) Flora Brasiliensis.

Scott A. Mori, et al. (1983) The botanical Review. New York Botanical Garden n.49, v.2.

Nina M. Rach (June 2002) "Ancient Sands of Venezuela's Gran Sabana," in: Orchids 516-525.

Gustavo A. Romero (1993). "Unique orchid habitats in southern Venezuela I. Inselbergs, lajas or granite outcrops," in: American Orchid Society Bulletin 62: 698-707. [Photos of the related Sobralia granitica]

Gustavo A. Romero (1998). Venezuela, Orchid Paradise. Caracas: Armitano Editores C.A., 204p. [Sob. liliastrum, Sob. paradisica, Sob. stenophylla, Sob. violacea, (Sob. yauaperyensis)]

Gustavo A. Romero Gonzalez (2003) "The Sobralia liliastrum (Orchidaceae: Sobraliinae) complex in the Venezuelan Guyana," in: Harv. Pap. Botany 8(1): 115-129.

E.V.S.B. Sampaio, et al. (1996) Pes. Bot. Nordestina - Progressos e Perspectivas.

Web links for Sobralia liliastrum:

International Plant Names Index (IPNI),

Venezuela: Romero, G.A. "Inselbergs, granite outcrops or "lajas", a Photo essay [the related Sobralia granitica]

Guyana: Juul A.C. van Dam (2002) "The Guyanan Plant Collections of Robert and Richard Schomburgk," in Flora of the Guyanas, Supp. Series Fascicle 3, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, UK. Edited by M.J. Jansen-Jacobs; 211 pp., map. [Index 6, p. 199: Sobralia liliastrum (TYPE), sessilis, stenophylla (TYPE)].

Guyana: Preliminary Checklist of the Plants of Kaieteur Falls National Park, Guyana [also Sob. oliva-estevae and Sob. valida]

Guyana/Suriname/French Guiana: Eric A. Christenson and J.K. Boggan (1996) "ORCHIDACEAE of the Guianas, in: Checklist of the Plants of the Guianas". Orchidaceae webpage: URL

Brazil: Listed for Bahia. Species page from the Checklist das Plantas do Nordeste.

Brazil: Preliminary Checklist of the Plants of Monte Pascoal National Park, part of The Atlantic Coastal Forest Project of Northeastern Brazil

1999 Brazilian phone card
Brazil: Photo of Sobralia liliastrum in Bahia State, Brazil


Brazil: Delfina de Araujo's Flowering Periods of Brazilian orchids

Brazil: Photo by Antônio Prenholato of "Sobralia liliastrum" on the Sociedade Orquidófila de Brasília (SOB) website [probably a different species].

2001 Brazilian phone card

Brazil: Featured as one of ten orchids in a series of TELEMAR phone cards in 1999 ("30" above, right).


Brazil: Featured on a TELEMAR phone card issued in Algoas State in 2001 ("60" at left).




Comments? Questions? Send e-mail:

Sobralia Pages Banner Stanhopea Pages Banner

Houston Orchid Society Banner Houston Judging Center Banner